CAN-SPAM Act compliance

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Any nonprofit organization that sends out the same email to more than one person at a time, such as a newsletter, is subject to the laws governing “commercial” email, specifically the CAN-SPAM Act that was passed by the U.S. Government in 2003.

At that time, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and others made an effort to exempt charities from the CAN-SPAM Act, but that effort was unfortunately not successful. (Read Guidestar's 2005 discussion on CAN-SPAM.)

When does CAN-SPAM apply?

As far as we understand, any email sent should be reviewed to understand whether or not CAN-SPAM requirements must be added.

How do you comply with CAN-SPAM?

The FTC offers helpful guidelines on how to ensure you are in compliance with the Act. The Lexis Practical Advisor also covers how the Act may affect you and what you can do to stay in accordance. Please review this information carefully and make sure your emailing practices follow the requirements of the Act prior to sending your emails.

What is especially important in reviewing your email messages is to determine whether the email is “commercial” or whether it is “transactional,” or relationship-based.

Throughout our documentation about emailing using LGL Direct Email, we call out when emails might be “transactional” (and therefore exempt from CAN-SPAM) in an effort to help you with your compliance efforts. An example of a typical “transactional” email would be an acknowledgment email that references a donor’s gift and gift date. We believe this type of “transactional” email is exempt from CAN-SPAM requirements.

However, Little Green Light is not in a position to review your emails to determine whether they’re “commercial” or “transactional” as defined by CAN-SPAM. This responsibility lies with you. We do, however, recommend following these guidelines for each commercial email you send.

If you use Mailchimp or Constant Contact

Mailchimp and Constant Contact operate according to strict rules, based on the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, for every one of their accounts. If you use one of these services, make sure you review their documentation around this topic to ensure you keep your account up to date with their requirements.